PHOENIX — Mel Tucker is a grizzled veteran as a coach. With four tours as an NFL assistant and/or defensive coordinator and a start as a college coach that began with Nick Saban, he knew what questions were coming and how to answer them.
So when he was asked at Saturday’s College Football Playoff championship Media Day directly about whether or not he was joining Kirby Smart at Georgia as defensive coordinator, the Alabama defensive backs coach went straight into his “I’m focused only on this game” mode.
“At this point, my whole mantra, my physical energy, is focused on this game,” said Tucker during one of the dozen times (at least) he was asked about it. “I’m not thinking about anything else. This is a tremendous opportunity for our players, for our coaching staff and for our fans. It’s a huge task right now to get ready for this game. They’re a great football team. They present a tremendous challenge for us defensively and that’s where all our focus is right now.”
Likewise, Smart was not much help. The key, however, is neither party straight out denied there was anything to it.
“Right now we’re focused on one thing,” Smart said, repeating the refrain. “You know what we’re focused on? The national title game. So we’re going to focus on the national title game and we’ll worry about all that after the game.”
At least one Alabama player let the proverbial dog out of the bag, however. Freshman defensive back Minkah Fitpatrick, acknowledged that Tucker leaving for Georgia has been discussed with the team meeting room.
“He told us he’s probably going to go,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m happy for him getting a defensive coordinator spot. I just wish the best for him.”
There were also reports that Tucker is a candidate to succeed Larry Coker as head coach at the University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) and that he recently interviewed for the job.
Again, same refrain.
“Everything I’ve done up to this point has been in preparation for this game,” Tucker said. “We haven’t focused or thought about anything else.”
One thing is clear: Tucker and Smart have worked well together at Bama. And it wasn’t a sure thing. Tucker has been a defensive coordinator on his last three stops, all in the NFL. At Alabama, Smart is in charge of the defense, with Tucker concentrating on defensive backs and holding a role as assistant head coach.
“Kirby’s a tremendous coach, I think everybody knows that,” Tucker said. “He’s a high-character guy. He’ll do a tremendous job. We’ve created a tremendous opportunity for us at Alabama and for this game. We’re all team guys and want to do what’s best for the program, do what’s best for the players. We always make sure we’re on the same page. So it worked out great.”